Weathering The Storm

Emmonak Overcomes Hurdles to Build New Port

Storyknife, May/June 2023 edition, and 2022 Annual Report

The Emmonak port project includes a dock to receive ocean and river barges and a ramp that will be available to the community 24/7 as a boat launch. The project will be completed in 2023.
The Emmonak port project includes a dock to receive ocean and river barges and a ramp that will be available to the community 24/7 as a boat launch. The project will be completed in 2023.

As Typhoon Merbok swept up the Bering Sea coast, residents of Emmonak pulled their boats from the water and braced for more land to erode into the Yukon River.

When the storm ended, they were amazed. It turns out Emmonak’s new dock—a major infrastructure project for the Lower Yukon region—is a “helluva breakwater,” says City Manager David Roland. He estimates the dock saved 1,800 feet of land from washing away in the Sept. 2022 storm.

Like other big projects in Alaska, each step to develop the regional port in Emmonak was like weathering a storm.

The project team, including community leaders, faced the daunting task of obtaining permits, designing, and securing more than $35 million to build the first dock of its kind on the U.S. portion of the Yukon River.

“The Kuskokwim has had this kind of infrastructure in Bethel forever. Until now, the Yukon hasn’t had it,” Roland says.


At times, it would have been easy for the port’s strongest advocates to lose faith. The COVID-19 pandemic erupted six weeks after the project started, creating supply chain, regulatory and workforce disruptions throughout that first year.

In the second year of the pandemic, the project team lost their beloved champion—the late Martin B. Moore, Sr.—who served as Emmonak’s city manager for decades. When they needed to secure more funding or negotiate over design decisions, team members needed to step into Moore’s big shoes to keep the project on track.

It took a lot of time and grant writing to find funding for the port’s final phase. Project proponents including Rep. Neal Foster and Sen. Donny Olson, along with Calista executives, successfully made their case to the State of Alaska to fund the port to completion, a major breakthrough, says Project Administrator Joan Herrmann.

The project team weathered each of these challenges, and the team members hope the port—already bringing ocean-going vessels to Emmonak—increases the resilience of Emmonak and other Lower Yukon communities.

This is sorely needed. Emmonak Mayor Wilbur Hootch says the port project came together around the same time the glue of the Lower Yukon economy and subsistence way of life—salmon fishing—began to come apart.

With the dock now open for business, Hootch hopes to see ocean freight delivered directly to the Lower Yukon without the added cost of handling in other locations. This has the potential to lower the costs of goods—building supplies, equipment, even food—for the entire region. That was Martin Moore Sr.’s vision, Hootch says.


The full economic benefits of the new port may not be seen for a few years, says Roland. For now, he’s happy to see vessel operators no longer wallowing through the mud to tie up barges and offload freight in Emmonak.

This year’s efforts will complete the port’s boat ramp, which will be accessible to everyone in the village 24/7, and establish new fencing around the dock to secure offloaded freight.

“It’s way easier these days with all the potential roadblocks, to not do something, than to do something. This project has been a great success, led by the community itself,” says Brice Inc. Construction Manager Marcus Trivette.

Brice Inc. worked with fellow Calista subsidiaries Brice Marine and STG Incorporated, as well as other contractors, to build the dock.

“The biggest positive outcome was the advocacy, as well as the hard work to make sure that the port works for all the different kinds of vessels,” Trivette says.

The City of Emmonak hopes to have a grand opening and dedication for the new regional port at the end of summer 2023. Fundraising is also underway to build a terminal to support port operations and purchase equipment.

Hootch and Roland emphasize that the port is one of several community improvements projects championed by Moore and completed in the past couple years, including a new washeteria and hotel.
“I only wish Martin was here to see how it all worked out,” Roland says.


City of Emmonak; Emmonak Tribal Council; Alaska Project Solutions, Inc.; Chuloonawick Native Village; Association of Village Council Presidents; Kwik’Pak Fisheries; Alaska Village Electric Cooperative; Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation; Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association; the late Congressman Don Young; U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan; U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski; U.S. Maritime Administration; Alaska Governor’s Office; Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development; Alaska Department of Transportation; State Rep. Neal Foster; and State Sen. Donny Olson.